Interstellar (2014) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi project is a visually beautiful experience. The often stunning effects work and set designs are among the most striking committed to screen. Obviously inspired by 2001, Solaris, and a host of other ‘high-minded’ space parables, Interstellar is at its most appealing before its main character launches into orbit on a mission to save humanity. The thespian pyrotechnics are laid on thick as each of the film’s three major stars is given numerous close-ups while shedding tears. The hoped for emotional impact on audience members is virtually non-existent, the final scene in Armageddon pulled more tears, although this is admittedly Nolan’s most heartfelt work to date.

In a future not too far removed from today, the human race has experienced a massive food shortage resulting in the need for us to evacuate the Earth. Former Astronaut turned farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is part of the so-called ‘caretaker generation’, displaying the urgent need to reestablish societal rituals and habits. Murphy is Cooper’s scrappy ginger-haired daughter, a budding scientist in her own right and also the main character of the film. As the picture begins, Murphy is receiving some sort of sign from a supposed supernatural element that is communicating in morse code. Her father isn’t much interested in the exaggerated stories of his daughter’s fertile imagination, he tells her to record the data, analyze the facts and form a conclusion based on the material presented. This guideline works for reviewing the film as well.

Through deciphering the code Cooper and Murphy unlock the coordinates to a highly secret government facility that functions as NASA. The massive abandoned silo is now being used to construct a spacecraft capable of launching humanity off of our dying planet. Cooper is asked to man the shuttle, but the sacrifices are enormous, he will be away for decades. The space-time continuum and wormholes will slow time for the astronauts, putting them remarkably off from their earth-bound counterparts. He accepts the mission much to the dismay of his daughter, her deep emotional pain from his perceived abandonment are central to the film and both characters.

An adult version of Murphy is played by OSCAR nominated actress Jessica Chastain. She is a fine actress capable of displaying intelligence and steely determination on-screen, but Nolan’s requirement of her are to act either angered or confused. Her portrayal is gathering a lot of critical support but I just don’t think the role is written strong enough to give her character much to do. Same for her brother Tom (Casey Affleck), who spends a large portion of the movie as a sort of villainous presence.

Ultimately the space antics and scientific theories give way to the truth, Interstellar for all it’s visually impressive effects, is about fathers and their daughters. Ann Hathaway is Amelia Brand the co-pilot onboard the space-craft and her fractured relationship with her father Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who also happens to be mission control operations head, plays heavily into the picture’s plot and theme. To further drive in the point, John Lithgow (always a welcomed site) plays the role of Cooper’s father-in-law, a perfunctory character save for his unresolved grief over his deceased daughter.

The film’s major set-pieces are a knockouts, the kind that inspire the ‘awe’ factor that once was commonplace in these type of blockbusters. The set and production design are Academy Awards caliber, and the costumes are an interesting juxtaposition from L.L. Bean to space regalia that looks like it had been closeted since the initial Apollo landings. Set to a haunting score from the master Hans Zimmer, there are moments when Interstellar soars, particularly in a sequence involving a massive tidal wave. But the story feels out of the reach of Nolan’s grasp. The ambitious but ultimately disappointing result is reminiscent of when Spielberg was channel Kubrick in A.I. and Minority Report.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain

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